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The Two Faces of Accountability
By Valarie D. Willis

We are all quite familiar with accountability as it relates to measurable things like goals and objectives. Achieving stated goals is one side, how we behave while working towards the goals is the other side.

I believe that some organizations have a "Jekel and Hyde" complex. Jekel is behavior accountability, and Hyde is goal accountability.

Jekel's Face

In Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni writes about team accountability. Not only is the team responsible for the goals of the team, the team is responsible for how the team behaves. Yet most people don't want to deal with the conflict and angst that comes with addressing bad behavior. Dysfunctional behavior that goes unchecked can create huge problems for organizations.

During my corporate experience we had a sales person who could make his sales goals with no problem. He consistently achieved goals as he consistently violated every corporate value on the books. He was constantly disrespectful, temperamental, controlling, overbearing and not a team player. His behavior went unchecked AND he would receive awards for achieving his sales goals.

The service department was furious that they had to take abuse and someone was being rewarded. This behavior demoralized individuals and created friction within the sales team. The violations became so bizarre that action was taken, but damage to the team and the entire organization had already been done.

In most organizations there are stated values displayed along corridor walls, printed on the back of ID cards, and posted on websites. While the values are visible the accountability question is: Are these values real or just posted? The answer lies in watching behavior. If the values aren't being lived out and no one "checks" the behaviors, then the values have no value.

There is no accountability for the behavior. This often gets passed over as a minor infraction not worthy of the leader's attention, yet it should be screaming for the leader's attention. When minor violations are allowed to go unnoticed, it creates a domino effect; eventually it all starts to fall apart.

I recently spoke with a Southwest flight attendant, getting the scoop on the real Southwest. She echoed what business people read about - Southwest has a strong values culture. The flight attendant told me that you would get fired faster at Southwest for mistreating another employee, than a customer.

Now, that is not saying that they tolerate poor service, but as she said, "If you don't treat your co-workers well, you aren't going to treat the customer well. We work as a team, that's how we get the job done." The Jekel syndrome has no place to take root here.

Hyde's Face

Sales and Marketing Management recently reported that customer service is suffering in many industries. Their article entitled "Poor Customer Service Causes Churn," cites the reduction of service in several industries.

"Retailers suffered the greatest number of customer defections, followed by internet service providers, banks, home telephone service providers, wireless/cell phone companies, and cable/satellite TV service providers. Utility companies and life insurers suffered the fewest customer defections (selected by 3 percent of respondents each) followed by airlines (4 percent) and hotels (6 percent)."

Who is accountable for this mass exodus of consumers? The leaders, the front line workers, the sales people? Somewhere along the line, a weak accountability link was formed. If we were to survey these businesses, it probably wouldn't necessarily be easy to spot the link. I suspect that if we could eavesdrop on conversations, we may have heard, "That is not my problem," or "Someone else will take care of that."

Often we avoid being accountable because we have to take on something that is outside of our realm of responsibility. We keep passing the problem down the chain. If this were a relay race, we could never win, because the baton is not being successfully passed on.

However, if we want to achieve the goals and objectives, we need to think about what we have agreed to be accountable for. When we sign up to achieve a goal, then we have to go the distance and make sure that it happens.

There are real costs associated with not being accountable. Goals are not achieved, and more importantly, key relationships with consumers and clients are at stake. Customer loyalty once lost is hard to regain. Everyone in an organization is accountable for retaining customers. We probably don't help everyone understand this critical component of their job.

The Sales and Marketing article reported Robert Wollan, managing partner for Accenture's Customer Contact Transformation business, as saying, "High-performing companies recognize that customer satisfaction is built or destroyed by how well they coordinate every step of each interaction-they're focused on translating their existing service technology investments into satisfying experiences that keep customers coming back. As industries fall victim to commoditization and barriers to changing service providers are removed, those that neglect any aspect of the customer service experience risk losing market share to competitors."

Successful organizations recognize the two powerful accountability faces and ensure that both are being honored at all times.

How are you doing in holding people accountable for both their behaviors and their goals? What would you recommend that people do? Let's hear from you.

Copyright© 2006 Valarie D. Willis

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